Singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur is suing the Los Angeles Times for defamation over an article last year that labeled him an “anti-vaxxer,” saying it caused him to be “shunned” and led directly to the cancellation of multiple gigs.
In a complaint filed Wednesday in Virginia federal court, the singer’s attorney claimed the paper had “deliberately excluded and misrepresented Arthur’s position and falsely portrayed him as a radical anti-vaxxer, who spread disinformation and otherwise engaged in extreme behavior.”
“LA Times’ false and defamatory statements jeopardized Arthur’s safety and harmed Arthur and his reputation,” the singer’s lawyer wrote.
A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Times declined to comment on the accusations, citing the pending litigation.
The article, published on Aug. 10, 2021, carried the headline “He was a celebrated singer-songwriter with famous fans. Then he started posting about the vaccine.” An alternative headline reads: “Joseph Arthur: The path from acclaimed artist to anti-vaxxer.”
Arthur, a critically acclaimed songwriter first discovered by Peter Gabriel and known more recently for his collaboration with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, had criticized the COVID-19 vaccine as a “danger to humanity, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary,” the article said. The story, penned by reporter Randall Roberts, describes the professional fallout for Arthur, including his band choosing to “quit en masse” and his longtime manager dropping him as a client.
Statements are only defamatory if they’re false, and Arthur does appear to have offered outspoken criticism about the COVID-19 vaccine. His main argument seems to be that the article falsely portrayed him as opposed to all vaccines, rather than merely opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine.
His lawsuit included a screenshot of a text, purportedly to the Los Angeles Times reporter who wrote the story, that read: “I’m not an anti vaxxer. I’m anti this experimental shot with no long term tests that is harming many and completely ineffective against the spread of the virus.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that the COVID-19 vaccines are both safe and effective.
Beyond the “anti-vaxx” label, Arthur also claims the article “falsely implies” that his position on the vaccine has “cost him” professionally. He also claims that the use of an image of his newborn son “implied that Arthur was endangering his child, his family, indeed all of society.” He called it an “unconscionable misrepresentation.”
Arthur also alleged that the article suggested he was “mentally unstable” and that he had made “fraudulent statements about the COVID-19 vaccine,” though the Los Angeles Times article does not appear to directly say those things.
In addition to the claim of defamation, the lawsuit also included a claim of “false light” invasion of privacy, saying that “by labeling and stigmatizing Arthur as an ‘anti-vaxxer,’ LA Times painted Arthur in a false light that would be offensive to any reasonable person.”